Tribes by Seth Godin: Which Tribe Do You Lead?

Seth Godin is the renowned author of books like Purple Cow and Linchpin and a myriad of other familiar books around marketing and being awesome at your work. Tribes is his book about what it takes to get leverage with your idea. That leverage comes from leading a Tribe and the leverage that leadership brings.

Tribes give you leverage. And each of us have more leverage than ever before. I want you to think about the ramifications of the new leverage. I’m hoping you’ll see that the most profitable path is also the most reliable, the easiest, and the most fun. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to give you a push on the path to become a heretic yourself.

To Godin the heretic is the person with new ideas that helps take a group of people where they wanted to go already. Maybe they didn’t know they wanted to go that direction but when presented with the ideas of the heretic they realize they fit suddenly.

And your Tribe is formed.

Tribes is a really a collection of essays. You’ll often find four or five that revolve around one theme, but I got around six essays in before I realized that these were not just titles inside a bigger chapter.

This is also not a book with a magic six-step process to build a Tribe. It explains the general dynamics of a Tribe and how they function. It explains how a leader leads a diverse group of people over which they have no power. If you’re looking for a book with that magic process (which I don’t believe exists anyway) then look elsewhere.

The closest Godin comes to describing a process to build a Tribe is his discussions around being comfortable with failure. All the greats had failures. Much like the Will in The Obstacle is the Way (my review) the greats just kept on going past the failure viewing it as another step on the path to success.

Here are some of the key highlights I had and why I found them interesting.

On Leading or Managing

Leaders have followers. Managers have employees.

One of the recurring themes in Tribes is the thought of the factory (which has employees) and the tribe (which has followers). One is great at cranking out widgets and following the status quo and one is built for change and tearing down the status quo.

The thing is, managers and factories have a vested interest in the status quo. Think of the music industry battling against the status quo of CD album sales vs. subscription services or a la carte song purchasing. They spent more time trying to protect the original way they made money while the needs of their customers passed them by, and other services went from little things not worth competing with to large competitors that now hold much of the power.

The same has happened in the cable industry. The only people I know with cable are sports fans, and even they say they look for a way to cut the cable and just go to Netflix or other digital offerings.

The big question to ask yourself in all the thoughts on managers and factories is, Are you a manager in a factory or are you a leader building a tribe?

You want that answer to come down on the side of being a leader.

Where power comes from

Managers manage by using the authority the factory gives them. You listen to your manager or you lose your job. A manager can’t make change because that’s not his job. His job is to complete tasks assigned to him by someone else in the factory.

Leaders, on the other hand, don’t care very much for organizational structure or the official blessing of whatever factory they work for. They use passion and ideas to lead people, as opposed to using threats and bureaucracy to manage them. Leaders must become aware of how the organization works, because this awareness allows them to change it.

Yes you can be a leader inside a traditional company though it may be a tough road. Far too often that leader with the unconventional idea gets their innovation beat out of them by the other factory workers who don’t want anyone to put their head up and be exceptional.

This reminded me of the famous experiment where researchers put bananas up a pole in a monkey enclosure. When one of the monkeys would go for the bananas researchers would spray the monkey with water to knock it off. Eventually the monkeys would try and stop anyone from going for the food. Then the researchers stopped spraying and started swapping out monkeys. Eventually there were no animals that had been sprayed or seen anyone sprayed and yet they still would pull anyone off the pole that tried to get the food.

While we could debate the humaneness of the experiment it does provide a powerful view of how many workplaces treat those who try to excel. They just keep pulling them back to normal. The sad part is that the workplace likely needs this innovation and it’s either trained out of everyone or the people who want to innovate just move on to another company that isn’t indoctrinated in mediocrity.

Leaders, on the other hand, don’t care very much for organizational structure or the official blessing of whatever factory they work for. They use passion and ideas to lead people, as opposed to using threats and bureaucracy to manage them. Leaders must become aware of how the organization works, because this awareness allows them to change it.

Your question is: What type of organization have you built? Does it continually train mediocrity into people? Does it punish those who try something new which doesn’t work? That’s training people to never try new ideas.

How many fans/followers do you need?

Fans, true fans, are hard to find and precious. Just a few can change everything. What they demand, though, is generosity and bravery.

Before you go further read this great timeless article called 1000 True Fans. I’ll wait.

Welcome back. Good read, isn’t it? Eye-opening for those of us trying to build some sort of Tribe around our ideas. To turn this Tribe into something you can call your job you really only need 1,000 people willing to spend money on everything you offer.

While 1,000 people in the sea of millions really isn’t a lot of people we need to remember that true fans are hard to find. It’s easy to find lots of casual fans who will share your content on social media sometimes. They’ll retweet your product launches and even make the odd purchase. Those aren’t the true fans though.

I’m sure you’ve heard at least a variation of this joke.

An atheist, a vegan and a CrossFitter walk into a bar. I only know this because they told everyone within two minutes.

Yes they (we actually, as I do CrossFit) share their (our) views freely. They do it because they feel they have something awesome going on that they want people to have as well. They don’t share it to be annoying, they share it because they think that your life can also be better with the knowledge they have.

A true fan is like any of those people.

Your question is: Are you carefully cultivating your true fans? Are you taking them for granted?

Don’t just dream, take action

There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of ideas. Ordinary folks can dream up remarkable stuff fairly easy. What’s missing is the will to make the ideas happen.

I get to talk to lots of people that want to run their own business. They are great technicians, they can design, write, code, or whatever. They want to keep talking about the awesome life they will live when they get out on their own.

I also talk to lots of people who want to give up their house, purchase a truck and trailer, and travel with their kids.

The key in both of those groups of people is that they want to talk about it. They don’t want to do the work to make it happen. They don’t want to sell their house and get rid of most of their stuff. They can’t take the trip now because the thought of homeschooling children seems like actual work. Much better to send them to school where you only have to think about it a bit.

The wannabe business owners don’t want to put in the hours needed to build six months’ savings when they start their business. They don’t want to learn about sales, marketing, invoicing.

They want to dream, not take action. They’d rather watch TV in the evening instead of reading that book about sales. Really it just feels good to talk about it and all they want is to be perceived as someone that would run their own business or take that big trip.

Remember in The Obstacle is the Way the second key to Stoic philosophy is to take action. Not just single-time action either, but repeated action over months/years/decades to get to your goal.

Unfortunately we are also complicit in people with ideas fooling themselves. We don’t call them on their bullshit idea they just want to talk about. We agree that with kids the trip can’t happen. That’s just too much work. We agree that whatever show they are watching is a good show and binge watching it is a great use of time.

Your challenge is: Start taking action! Stop letting people off the hook around you! Tell them to start taking action or stop talking about it.

Fear

If a critic tells you, “I don’t like it” or “This is disappointing,” he’s done no good at all. In fact, quite the opposite is true. He’s used his power to injure without giving you any information to help you do better next time. Worse, he hasn’t given those listening any data with which to make a thoughtful decision on their own.

This is the essence of the trolls on the Internet. They can drive by and leave a comment with no recourse. As Brian D. Earp recently wrote in The Unbearable Asymmetry of Bullshit:

In the case of Lord Voldemort, the trick is to unleash so many fallacies, misrepresentations of evidence, and other misleading or erroneous statements — at such a pace, and with such little regard for the norms of careful scholarship and/or charitable academic discourse — that your opponents, who do, perhaps, feel bound by such norms, and who have better things to do with their time than to write rebuttals to each of your papers, face a dilemma. Either they can ignore you, or they can put their own research priorities on hold to try to combat the worst of your offenses.

We fear this onslaught of negative comment on our work. But stop for a second — are you ever going to see the trolls? Do you know them personally? Do you have to interact with them?

It’s time to stop fearing the critics. They’re always going to be there and the true sign of the heretic Godin speaks of is that people oppose their ideas. You’re often onto something great when you’ve got haters.

Giving not getting

Leaders who set out to give are more productive than leaders who seek to get. Even more surprising is the fact that the intent of the leader matters. The tribes can sniff out why someone is asking for their attention. Looking out for number one is an attitude and it’s one that doesn’t pay.

I know you want to launch a new product and make millions so you can go sip drinks somewhere tropical. That’s all about you, though. That’s about the money you’re going to make and the life you’ll live after.

What type of life will your customers have after? Will they have a better business or better life? Are you truly giving them something of value or are you simply bundling up some stuff people will give you money for?

Bundling up ‘stuff’ is what we think of when we think of sleazy marketers and spammy ads. It’s just stuff and unfortunately enough people get fooled into making a purchase so the marketers make money and lots of it.

While this may sound attractive to some, I’m not one of them and I hope you’re not either. I have no desire to look back on my life and realize that I provided little value.

So I give. I try to give away much of how I’ve run my business and make six figures without working more than 30 hours in a week (and probably 10 of those are dedicated to writing this site, not client work).

Your question is: Are you really giving away anything that the customer will find value in? Why not?

The short life and thank God it’s Friday

“Life’s too short” is repeated often enough to be a cliche, but this time it’s true. You don’t have enough time to be both unhappy and mediocre. It’s not just pointless, it’s painful. Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you ought to set up a life you don’t need escape from.

I’m pretty famous for getting annoyed when someone in my office building says “Thank God it’s Friday”. I always challenge them with the sentiment above. While I may not check email over the weekend I do read books around business and may even write if the mood strikes me.

I’m amazingly lucky to wake up each morning and get a chance to write and read. I’m energized on Fridays when I finish my call with the mentoring group I lead or when I finish with a one-on-one coaching call.

I’m excited to see the success others have and happy that I can get a small part in it through some advice I gave. Often I just ask some questions and people talk themselves around to where they need to go and what they need to do to get there.

If you’re not happy with what you do, then change it. Stop wallowing in the misery that is excited for the weekend or vacation so you can get away from your work. Find work that’s meaningful.

Your challenge: Put together a plan to find work you love.

It’s my fault

If you hear my idea but don’t believe it, that’s not your fault; it’s mine.

If you see my new product but don’t buy it, that’s my failure, not yours.

If you attend my presentation and you’re bored, that’s my fault too.

I’ve long said that a great consultant figures out how failure is their fault.

Have a pissy client that’s rude and wants 500 extra things for the same price? It’s your fault that you didn’t catch those issues when you were vetting the client.

Have too many projects on the go? You should have said NO to some of the projects. Needed the money and you couldn’t? Well that’s your fault for not finishing other things faster and not budgeting.

Your challenge: Don’t blame, figure out how the problem is your fault then set about to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Recommendation

My biggest issue with the book Tribes was that it felt disorganized and lacking in a clear direction. I’ll let Godin speak to that:

I can tell you I’m going to get a lot of flak from most people about what you’ve just read. People might say it’s too disorganized or not practical enough or that I require you to do too much work to actually accomplish anything. That’s okay. In fact, criticism like that almost always accompanies change.

This made me smile as I was 90% done with the book and starting to think about writing down my thoughts. He addressed them. It did feel disorganized and there is a bunch of work. There is no clear plan to build a Tribe. But I’m not sure there can be.

Yes there are tactics that others have used that may work for you, but they may not. Banking on reading a single book to transform your idea into something that supports you via a Tribe of people that believe is a fool’s errand.

Overall Tribes is an easy read with lots of great thoughts. I pulled out about 20% of my highlights and notes. There is much more to dig into and I think that you should.

Get Tribes on Amazon

photo credit: peteashton cc

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